Paolo Maldini and the word ‘loser’ don’t exactly go hand in hand.
We are, after all, talking about arguably the greatest male defender in history who won seven Serie A titles, five Champions League crowns, five UEFA Super Cups, the Coppa Italia and FIFA Club World Cup across an iconic spell at AC Milan.
However, in the words of the great man himself, he remains a ‘loser’ by way of also having suffered major disappointments throughout his career such as failing to win either the World Cup or European Championships with Italy.
Maldini calls himself a ‘loser’
At least, that’s what the Milan legend said in 2020 with Marca quoting him as telling former teammate Christian Vieri over Instagram Live: “I’m the biggest loser in history.
“Let me explain. I won a lot but I lost three Champions League finals, a European Super Cup, a World Cup final, a European Championship final, a World Cup semi-final, and I could go on.”
Now, we understand what Maldini is ultimately getting at there because there is reason to believe that he did suffer an inordinate amount of disappointment relative to the talent of both himself and his teams.
And while we wouldn’t quite phrase that as brutally as Maldini chose to himself, it nevertheless serves as an interesting definition of the word ‘loser’ that you can easily apply to other big names in the sport.
“De Jong agrees to join Manchester United!” (Football Terrace)
Who are football’s biggest ‘losers’?
In fact, that’s exactly what Marca did at the time by compiling what they considered ‘The 10 biggest ‘losers’ in football,’ who, like Maldini, were forced to swallow many crushing defeats despite their undoubted talent.
Interesting, right? You bet, so let’s revisit Marca’s picks for the sport’s biggest ‘losers’ who must look back on their career wondering whether or not they were cursed.
1. Javier Mascherano
While, yes, Mascherano might have lifted over 20 major honours across his decorated career, he nevertheless bore the brunt of Argentina’s trophy drought as they lost in the 2014 World Cup final as well as the 2004, 2007, 2015 and 2016 Copa America climaxes.
All in all, Mascherano lost an eye-watering 11 finals during his time in the professional game.
2. Patrice Evra
Evra holds the unwanted record of having lost more Champions League finals than anybody else, coming up short with AS Monaco in 2004 and Juventus in 2015 along with defeats at the hands of Barcelona in 2009 and 2011 with Manchester United.
The Red Devils hero was also on the losing side of the Euro 2016 final with France.
3. Arjen Robben
A selection made more out of individual moments than total defeats with Robben no doubt still having nightmares about his one-on-one miss in the 2010 World Cup final and bungled penalty in the 2012 Champions League climax.
At least he was able to find some level of redemption in the following year’s final at Wembley.
4. Michael Ballack
The biggest ‘loser’ in football history by Maldini’s definition? Probably, because Ballack’s 2002 is the stuff of infamy as he lost in the DFB Pokal, Champions League and World Cup finals as well as finishing second in the Bundesliga.
Then, just to make matters worse, 2008 saw him lose another Champions League final as he finished runner-up in the Premier League and suffered defeat to Spain in the Euro 2008 decider.
5. Hector Cuper
A long, long line of misfortune has stalked the sole manager on the list with Cuper’s streak of bad luck starting at Mallorca where he lost the 1998 Copa del Rey final and 1999 Cup Winners’ Cup final.
Cuper then lost back-to-back Champions League finals with Valencia, bottled a Serie A title race with Inter Milan in 2003, lost the Greek Cup final in 2010 and came up short with Egypt in the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations climax.
6. Alessandro Del Piero
The harshest pick on the list? Without a shadow of a doubt, but Del Piero has nevertheless been dumped here due to three Champions League final defeats (1997, 1998, 2003) and featuring in Italy’s Euro 2000 final capitulation.
7. Lothar Matthaus
Bayern Munich bottling the 1999 Champions League final courtesy of two stoppage-time goals from United just about summed up Matthaus’ luck at times in his career as he watched on in utter disbelief.
The Ballon d’Or winner lost two European Cup finals in total as well as a UEFA Cup final and most painfully of all, two World Cup finals on the bounce.
8. Gonzalo Higuain
Individual errors further sour Higuain’s relationship with big games as many fans hold his crucial misses accountable for Argentina’s shortcomings in three major finals between 2014 and 2016.
The 34-year-old has also come up short in Champions League and League Cup showpieces.
9. Gianluigi Buffon
While Buffon has indeed lost French Cup and Coppa Italia curtain-closers, it’s his infamous lack of a Champions League trophy having lost in the 2003, 2015 and 2017 finals that pushes him towards that ‘loser’ label.
10. Antony de Avila
The ‘Smurf’ might have played until he was 47 years old and become the sixth-highest scorer in Copa Libertadores history, but South America’s premier competition would ultimately evade his grasp as he lost a staggering five finals.
Losing the 1985 final on penalties and the 1987 climax to a 120th-minute winner will undoubtedly have stung the most.
Brutal back luck
Oof. That’s a lot of defeats in a lot of finals.
There’s not a single player or manager on the list who didn’t enjoy success and wasn’t anything short of an extremely talented individual, but they nevertheless – for one reason or another – had to experience far more heartbreak than your average player.
However, as far wiser men have said before us, failures make for key lessons to learn from and only going through life with constant successes and victories makes it harder to grow, evolve and step out of your comfort zone.
So, while Maldini might be rather self-deprecating and harsh as to call himself a ‘loser’, we like to think that the bitter taste of all those disappointments played a key role in becoming the champion that we all know he is.